Showing posts with label Humour. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Humour. Show all posts

“Let’s Make a WhatsApp Group”: The Five Words Nobody Ever Wants to Hear

Whenever three or more people get engaged in any kind of activity, one of them commits the sin of uttering the five most futile words in the English language: “Let’s make a WhatsApp group.” This puts everybody involved in a bind, as an honest opinion is not what friends and families want. So how do you respond when someone insists, “WhatsApp group yahin banayenge!”
You know the drill — four school friends have met after a decade, they feel guilty for not being in touch, they make a Goa plan that’ll never materialise, and just to show commitment to the cause, one of them declares that a WhatsApp group called Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is a mist. A group, that’ll end up discarded like Hrithik Roshan’s phone that Farkhan Akhtar flung out of a moving car. 
Of course, not all pointless WhatsApp groups are created equal. Some are borne out of guilt. Some come into being through sheer stupidity. And some out of compulsion. An office group with bosses is no fun, so let’s create another group without them so we can bitch about them. But then, there are also other coworkers that you want to bitch about, so let’s create another group excluding them. Then, how about a “core friends group” where you do charcha about everyone else except those in the group? And all of this effort is just so that you can gossip
Let’s not forget the “official” group where work-related stuff  is discussed. This group functions a lot like the office: Everyone is politically correct and it’s here where the manager wakes up every Friday evening to assign “urgent” assignments to the team. And then there are those colleagues, who don’t waste a chance to create a new chat group – one of every new project, one for the potluck, one for the dreadful office party. 
There might be 20 people in the entire office but it has 15 chat groups. Of course, most of these groups are pointless as a steak knife at a vegan dinner.
As painful as office WhatsApp groups are, as you switch jobs, they come and go, much like India’s recent spate of RBI governors. But there is no escape from family, and by extension, from family Whatsapp groups, the darkest corner of the internet. There is a family group, there is an extended family group, there are various variations of groups with cousins, and there is one where you’re connected with relatives from your hometown. Despite the variety of family WhatsApp groups, each works like the other: It is replete with good morning messages, festival wishes, birthday wishes, and fake news forwards about how a Pepsi worker’s blood got mixed with the product and he had AIDS so you shouldn’t drink Pepsi anymore. Family WhatsApp groups are the only place where your true bigotry is on display. And even after heated debates between chacha and bhatija over Modi ji, none exit the group. Because come Raksha Bandhan, they’ll have to meet – chacha is one who gives his nephew money for the daaru party and he returns the favour by forwarding his uncle some “raunchy clips”.  So there’s an awkward silence for hours until chachi ji sends that video about that “crocodile spotted in Dadar”. You just sit and suffer through it, like the time you shelled out 500 bucks to catch the first day-first-show of Happy New Year.
While offshoots of school, college, family, and office WhatsApp groups contribute to most of the junk on our phones, there are also random groups that come to life once every few months, like Hema Malini before a general election. These are friends from gym, football buddies, dance class mates, or those two people you once met at a trek five years ago. Friends come and go but the life cycle of a WhatsApp group remains the same. It first begins with bundles of energy, discussions, and debates, with everyone taking part like it was the first day of school. Eventually the enthusiasm wears off and the group is restricted to wishing people on birthdays and forwarding links of your MBA survey because you need hits. A few months down the line, when people stop responding to even anniversary wishes, the group itself goes into a lull, never to be seen active again. 
I know there’s debate around the success rate of PM’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, but a WhatsApp clean-up act is what we need in the digital space. I think we all need to come to an agreement that extraneous groups need to go. Don’t we all need a break from each other? Do we really need an office group after we spend close to 10 hours slogging it out together? And does a family of four need one to debate whether to have baingan or bhindi for dinner over WhatsApp?     
We tend to create WhatsApp groups with a lot more enthusiasm and with equal fervour put it on mute. So if you we can’t stand most most of these chats, the only logical reply to someone saying let’s make a WhatsApp group, is, let’s not. 

Ganesh Chaturthi: When Every Middle-Class Family Turns Interior Designer and Art Decorator


When you grow up in a middle-class home, outlets for creativity are limited, much like political options in India. Right from school, pursuits like drawing, singing, and craft are considered “extracurricular activities” — basically a waste of time. If you excel at them, the only stage you’re offered is at family functions where dad tells you “Beta, uncle ko ganaa gaake sunao” or “Beta, dadi ki liye birthday card banao”. As a career choice, art is considered the bottom of the barrel. If you told your parents, you wanted to join a design school, they’d sit you down to tell you, “Yeh ameeron ke shauq hain, beta.” Only rich people can afford creative careers, because “scope nahi hai”.
Middle-class folks are required to curb their creativity the same way Hardik Pandya curbs his attacking instincts in Test cricket. However, there is one festival which turns into a mosh pit for the creative types – Ganesh Chaturthi.
Ganesha is the God of Fun, associated with music, modaks, and masti. Whether it is channelling your inner Bappi Lahiri to decorate the pandal or dancing like Govinda on crack during the visarjan, this is the middle-class Ganpati bhakt’s moment to shine.
The creative minds get to work days before Chaturthi. When you go to pick the murti, even mom turns into Michelangelo, chipping in with enthusiasm about the shape of Ganesha’s trunk, the intricacies of his jewellery, and the colour of his dhoti. Even a tiny detail like the mouse is not missed. I remember her saying once, “This mouse looks a little angry. We need a happy mouse.” But when it comes to ordering food at a restaurant or buying a TV at Vijay Sales, she’d show little interest. “Jo sab ko acha lage le lo”.
Once the perfect idol is picked, the group-craft project gets rolling. Stationery that hasn’t been used in years in pulled out, Chinese lights and lanterns are bought causing a dent to Make In India. Remember the fancy marriage invitation you received from your rich Marwari neighbours, envelopes studded with colourful stones, satin ribbons, unique gift boxes, and wrapping paper that mom had saved waiting for the perfect moment to bring them out? This is that moment.
The only person in the family who took to art and crafts in school becomes the head of the Ganpati Decoration Project. In my case, it is my little cousin who takes charge, instructing everyone on what to do. It’s great fun to watch grandparents fidgeting with sketch pens and dad struggling with clay.   
When out of ideas, the family nerd chips in. “More research is needed for this project,” he says and immediately starts googling for “home Ganpati decoration ideas”. Ganeshji is a cool customer, he seems happy if you put him in a cricket stadium, have him pose with army men, or put him in a cave along with a little message about the environment. And if you want to keep it simple, a few lights and some flowers are enough to make Bappa’s face glow.    
Once the decor plan is finalised, everyone gets cracking. It is one of the very few activities that brings the entire family together. This and mom’s monthly paani-puri party. Or if Sholay is playing on Sony.
As the struggle with the scissors begins, dad will joke about how he always sucked at craft and sister will start mocking dad’s terrible colour choices for the background. Why would anyone go for the orange and red combination? Mom doesn’t appreciate how lightly everyone is treating the project and expects perfection. “Arré woh paper ke phool acche nahin dikh rahe hain. Log kya kahenge?”  
This is just the beginning and soon tempers begin to fly. Should the mountain in the background have orange lights or green? Should the curtains be velvet or cotton? Should we keep the sweets on the left or the right? It is one of the few situations in the house when democracy prevails and majority decisions decide outcomes.
Once the decor is complete and you are in shiny new clothes with freshly purchased modaks in hand, the examiners, aka guests begin flocking to the house. “Yeh phool kitne sundar hain,” says the neighbouring aunty and everyone looks at mum and smiles. But there’s always someone like Mrs Sharma who will find some fault. “Yeh mountains bade fake lag rahe hain. Humare Monu ki saas ke ghar mein, itna beautiful decoration hai naa.” Time for a joint family eye roll. After guests leave mum suggests, “Next time, let’s make Monu’s saas in charge of the decor.”
Ganesh Chaturthi is when every parent turns interior designer, every kid a painter, every uncle a craft expert, and grandma is a jewellery designer. It’s an art exhibition of the middle-class — and every clay mountain or paper flower, is the pièce de résistance.

Are Swimming Coaches the Real Water Monsters?


Can you truly call yourself a ’90s kid if your folks didn’t bundle you off for cycling, karate, or swimming every summer? Indian parents did not want their kids wasting time watching Cartoon Network all day, so they came up with a checklist to create a master race, and the way to do that was to teach the subjects a new skill during every vacation.
First, I started with cycling, because I live in a Gujarati family and it was the cheapest investment. The next year, The Karate Kid was a huge hit, and I was screaming, “Hu! Ha!” every morning in a white robe with the confidence of Bruce Lee and the ability of a ’90s-era Adnan Sami. Once land was conquered, it was time to venture into Poseidon’s realm, and master the art of swimming.
My father believed in the old-school instruction method of throwing me into a slow-moving river and hoping for the best. After definitely swallowing a few litres of dirty water and probably a few small fish, he gave up the DIY tutorial. It was time to approach the experts, and I was enrolled in a 21-day swimming camp close to our house.
The excitement of buying a colourful swimsuit and fancy goggles immediately disappears when you’re first faced with the tang of chlorine and the scary depths of the adults’ pool. Your nerves are then calmed with the sight of floats around, and the swimming teacher and lifeguards all seem like nice and helpful people.
But then, even a totalitarian state once burst with hope and positivity in the air when it all began, which is the same feeling you get during the first few days of swimming lessons. Your float is reassuringly tied to your back, you’re happily splashing water on your new friends, and the only exercises are leg movements in the baby pool. About a week later, things start to escalate. The swimming coach becomes more dangerous in the water than a coked-up crocodile. Scared toddlers are thrown from the diving board and horrified kids are set adrift without floats, struggling for their lives and gulping down weird-tasting water. After swimming class, I always hoped the strange taste was from the chlorine, and not from someone emptying their bladders into the pool in fear.
A prerequisite for being a swimming coach is that you must be a strict asshole with no empathy or humanity left in you. Everyone should be terrified of you all the time. I secretly believe all the glowering, fierce extras playing soldiers in Border were swimming coaches on their winter break. If you could make up the perfect swimming teacher, you’d use Amitabh Bachchan’s authoritarian baritone, Rajnikanth’s bristling mooch, and Hulk Hogan’s bright, technicolour chaddis. I was so terrified of my coach that whenever I saw him outside the pool, in the market or at a fair, I’d pretend not to have noticed him.
I suppose their despotism has some roots. When you are trying to bully a skill into children, there is no place for sympathy, or human rights. How do you think the Chinese ended up with 100 medals at the Beijing Olympics? Dictatorships only work when people subscribe to a method or system, and it’s no different for water dictatorships.
When the 21 days of hell were over, parents were invited to the mujra to watch their kids glide across water like mermaids. It was a simple exam – you had to jump from the diving board, swim the length of the pool, and voila! You’ve cleared your test. It sounded simple enough, but when the time came to jump, I was too scared and held on tightly to my mom’s chunni. I even turned on the waterworks, hoping my tears would save the day with all the adults around. But dictators don’t get to the top by being soft or showing mercy.
The cold-blooded dictator sent one of his executioners, also known as lifeguards, to forcibly drag me away from my mom and carry me to the diving board. Like an animal being sacrificed on Eid, he handed me over to the dictator, who gently held me by the neck, and then threw a helpless seven-year-old into a 13-foot-deep pool from a height of 25 feet, in front of an entire audience of adults who all stood and watched in silence.
This is not a story of redemption with a background score by Hans Zimmer, where the swimming teacher’s tough love finally paid off, and I discovered I could swim like Kandivali’s Michael Phelps once I hit the water. Instead, I struggled and feverishly flapped my hands for about a minute before drowning and eventually being rescued. The teacher’s disappointed look made me feel like I just missed the DU cut-off by three marks. But for me, it was a bit like watching Bodyguard, I was just glad it was over. Thanks to my coach, I was scared of going near a pool for years. I would look at water the same way Jaadu from Koi Mil Gaya looked at darkness.
Screw Gabbar Singh. Maybe the punchline to our childhood horror stories should be, “So jao, varna swimming coach aa jaayega…”

I’m Hardik and I’m Not Always Aroused


“Sir, is your name… Hard-dick?”
By the age of 14, I had lost patience to correct every person who got my name wrong, so I just nodded at the immigration officer at Jerusalem airport. She showed my passport to her colleague sitting nearby and they both shared a giggle. I thought the horror show was over but I soon heard my name pronounced incorrectly again. This time, over the loudspeaker because I’d forgotten to collect a document. Some people around started laughing and my mom looked at me with a confused face and asked “Beta, kem hasse che badha (Why is everyone laughing?)”
My parents and relatives all studied in Gujarati-medium schools and in the language – as well as in Hindi and Marathi – Hardik has a sweet meaning. It means “from the heart”. I won’t go into the specifics, but let’s just say Gujarati is a deceptive language. Gota is a deep-fried delicacy and muthiya is a breakfast snack. So while my name had a positive connotation in the world of my parents, it had a very different meaning in my world, a six-year old enrolled in an English-medium convent.
As children, our attempts at roasting friends begins with innocence, as we slightly twist names. Aman-Chaman, Hunny-Bunny, Bijal-Brinjal, Hardik-Hardisk. I’m guessing that would have been the rationale behind naming a baby Taimur, to save him from the menace. How the fuck do you roast a Taimur, or even come up with something that rhymes with it?
It wouldn’t take too long for things to change though, as Hussain Kuwajerwala fucked over my happiness, roaming around Indian toilets with that dreaded blue “Harpic” bottle. I was Harpic for a good number of years. After all, you could directly associate a human being with a sandaas. If you want to bring someone down in school, that’s the kind of banter you need.
In adolescence, the big guns were out.
I received sex education long before the rest of my classmates, when a senior pointed out what my name “actually” meant. “Oh! My parents don’t know! Those gullible cuties,” I thought. They might have just accidentally ruined my childhood. But I was wrong, it wasn’t just going to be my childhood.
Dick references became an integral part of my life like diabetes in a Gujarati meal. Every picture I click is a dick-pic. My go-to sexting line is “Hardik swagat hai.” De Kock is my favourite cricketer. My best friends are Dixit and Sukhdeep. Some people call me Hard, others call me Dick and I’m yet to figure out which one’s worse. I get a Hardick birthday cake every year just for a laugh. The same cake, every year. I get more penis enlargement spam mails than the average person. Every person I meet, wants to show me that Russell Peters set about how I should be working in porn.
While having an inappropriate name is all fun and games in teenage years, it can get tense and awkward at the workplace. When I sent a “Hi, Diana” to a colleague from Spain on the office messenger, I only got a terse “Hi” back. She didn’t mention my name. After all, it could well be a prank. What person is named Hardick?
Skype conference calls with foreign colleagues have a tricky ice-breaker as you introduce yourself and watch the colour drain from their face. Nope, it’s not a screen glitch. You want to die of guilt for something that isn’t your fault. On a bad day, you’ll get a formal email addressed as “Dear Hardick”, because auto correct isn’t necessarily politically correct.
The only thing worse than travelling abroad with a funny name is travelling abroad with your family. When you visit distant relatives and their kids, you can notice how they are all judging your family for being ignorant but don’t want to say it out loud. Well fuck you Randy, I look forward to your visit to India. In an attempt to fit in with the Europeans, you start making up nicknames like Hardy to avoid embarrassment. If your family couldn’t come up with a great name, they sure as hell didn’t come up with a decent nickname either. Hardu? It sounds like a sour fruit that no one wants to eat.
While my world changed at school, college, and work, it never collided with my parents’ world, who are still blissfully unaware. Every time my name is on a political hoarding in Maharashtra or Gujarat, they brag about how popular my name is. Or when Shahrukh Khan does a “hardik swagat” for some presenter at IIFA, my dad will jokingly congratulate himself. Ironically, my dad has a pretty good eye for funny names. “Ye Butler, Billings, Drinkwater, aisa koi naam rakhta hai kya?” he comments while watching sport.
Oh dad, if only you knew. You are that person.
I have made up my mind about what I’ll name my kid. If it’s a boy, I’ll name him Mulayam so every time he enters his full name on a form i.e. Mulayam Hardik Rajgor, he’ll be reminded of what an arsehole his dad was. And that’ll motivate him to do well in life. I do believe names shape your personality – because they are itself so fundamental to life, it’s a unique word that everyone associates you with. Your entire life. Well, mine happens to be a synonym for boner and it certainly helped me deal with uncomfortable situations and taught me to laugh them off. To never take myself too seriously. After all, even the people laughing almost never say it in a demeaning tone. It just happens to be a funny name and there’s nothing wrong with a laugh.
If your neighbour had a cute baby named Tipu, would you ever guess that he’d grow up to conquer territory, win multiple wars, and build a summer palace in Bangalore with tiger skin hanging on the wall? I think it was the rather silly name and people looking down at him as a child that inspired his success, and helped him become the Tiger of Mysore.
What’s in a name? A lot. Even in a funny one like Hardik.

Kyunki Shampoo Bhi Kabhi Simple Tha


Igrew up in simpler times, in the town of Mira Road, a place that merely existed as a banter point on whether it was a part of Thane or Mumbai. Mira Road received water at the same frequency I got a beating from my mom, i.e., once every three days. Plus, my forefathers came from Kutch. Clearly, my family was attracted to places with water problems the same way United States foreign policy is attracted to places with oil.
Water was so precious to us, that our minds went into Marwari mode when it came to spending it. Showers were alien to us, and the only accessories in our 4×4 bathroom were a red bucket and a blue mug. In Mira Road, water was heated by my mom on a stove. In Kutch, on a chulha. Most kids my age received pocket money. I, instead, received half a bucket of water and could use it any way I wanted. And my only friend was a green Medimix bar.
Medmix was the superhero of the soap world. It was all the Avengers rolled into one. Not only was it a soap, it also doubled up as a shampoo and anything else that you wanted it to be. There was just one soap to rule them all and it was all you needed to get rid of “dhul, mitti, ya daag”.
Shampoos had not made a grand shiny entry into our lives. I wasn’t even familiar with the concept of shampoos until my early teens. Back in the day, my innocent mind would judge the quality of a soap based on how much foam it could generate, and Medimix was just nailing it.
In the hierarchy of soaps, Medimix was the standard of the time, the vanilla equivalent in the ice-cream pantheon. If you were the upper middle class, you could afford colourful Nirma bars endorsed by Sonali Bendre roaming with lions. And the really rich would go for milky white Dove, or at least that’s what my social barometer told me.
As my parents started climbing up the social ladder, my morning rituals started getting complex. The first to penetrate our tiny cabinet was the shampoo that came along with the soap, the original OnePlus One of the world. I rationalised the thought in my head, “Fair enough, the soap is for the body and the shampoo is for the head.” But it wasn’t going to end at that, was it? Capitalism was at its peak and you were bombarded with choices, whether you wanted them or not.
Soon the generic shampoo had a sibling – the straight-hair shampoo. My sister purchased a special thingamajig that promised her hair without waves and I was warned to stay six feet away from it. I was more worried about accidentally using her shampoo than popping a casual paracetamol.   
My sister was not the only one falling for all this froth and farce. Dad switched to  a hair-fall shampoo. I found it ironic, at first, that he believed he could fight the Gujarati genetics of a balding patch with a yellow fluid that looked like pus. Mom purchased one for keeping her hair “black and strong” (whatever that means) and before I realised it, there were twelve types of shampoos, eight types of conditioners, four types of gels, and six types of body washes overflowing from our humble sunmica cabinet.
Our changing tastes in shampoo called for a change in the cabinet – the only bit of renovation our one BHK apartment has seen. Today the shampoo cabinet is overpowering the shoe cabinet, and we’re considering a menu to keep track of what’s what.
Now every time I go for a bath, it feels like I’ve entered an examination hall of cosmetic care. The other day, I spotted a “Lux Strawberry and Cream Silky Shampoo”, which caused a minor existential meltdown. Is that meant to be eaten or to be used on the hair? What if I use a shampoo that is not for my hair type? Will I ruin it forever? I don’t want to end up like Donald Trump. What are the steps to be followed? Is it soap first, then shampoo, and then conditioner? How much time do you have to wait between using the two products? What if you mistakenly use the conditioner before the shampoo? Will I have to spend a minimum of 45 minutes in the shower? Am I even allowed to use Halo, which is an egg-nourishing shampoo? I’m a vegetarian, what does the Gita have to say about this?
I needn’t have worried so much.
Eventually, it took me only a few days of getting used to when I finally succumbed. Yesterday, I was all set for my luxurious Sunday shower – body wash, shampoo, and conditioner all lined up… when the tap ran dry. I’d to make do with half a bucket of water and frantically started searching for my beloved Medimix. Sadly, it had already been replaced by some fancy bottle of gunk.